TOPIC is an ambitious new entertainment and storytelling studio from First Look Media, dedicated to working with creators at the forefront of culture. From Academy Award®-winning films (Spotlight) to television, audio and digital, we explore a wide range of subject matter, both fiction and nonfiction, with an emphasis on stories of consequence. Each month they focus on visual and audio stories programmed around a specific theme.

They contacted me to design the cover for their fifth issue, named CODE RED, focused about the general state of anxiety and uncertainty in our world, and the myriad espressions of the color red.

I'll show you below how I developed the concept, from the final one to other two ways we came across the making.

[from the website interview]

Artist Riccardo Sabatini says that his cover for our “Code Red” issue illustrates the virality of emotion, especially extreme emotions.

“It demonstrates how reactions can triggered, or turned ON, like pushing a button. And then spread exponentially, since nowadays society, and especially media, is a network of communicating devices,” he explains. “The power button turns ON, and fear is triggered. The pusher is whom spread fear at first. It could be anything or anyone. From a single harsh comment on a social network to a well conceived political propaganda.”

“One of the first visual references Sabatini received from Topic’s creative team was the United States’ Homeland Security advisory system, which goes from green, denoting low risk of attack, to red, the highest. Interestingly, the two colors stand on opposite sides of the chromatic color wheel.

He says that the illustration isn’t a specific comment on the United States, but rather, a global pattern. “It’s a useful tool for those who know how to use it,” he says. “Not only chaos is a ladder, fear is too.

“An early inspiration for our “CODE RED” cover was this animated GIF we've seen on Sabatini’s Ello profile. The hard edged typographic approach became less interesting after Sabatini submitted, on a lark, his hand-drawn concept that was ultimately chosen.”

“A sequence of GIF images that Sabatini offered as an alternative, apocalyptic vision. This was exciting and immediate, but lacked the dark and disturbing poetry of the final cover.”